Fear has been on my mind lately – the undoing of fear, which is healing – and in particular how one looks at this issue from the perspective of A Course in Miracles. Ending fear feels like a practical problem to me – like building a house rather than waxing poetic and philosophical about the joy of home.
There are times in my practice – I think this is generally true for all ACIM students – when a particular issue or challenge comes sharply into focus. These can be frightening moments but if we can hold them clearly – without judgment or panic – there is a potential for helpful undoing.
Right now, for me, I am seeing with great and uncomfortable clarity, how scared I am of being wrong. It is a specific fear that permeates my life in profound and far-reaching ways. There is literally not a single decision I make nor action I undertake that does not have at its root this question: what if I am wrong?
Obviously, I can only be so fearful because I believe that a) it is possible to be wrong and b) that serious, even fatal, consequences attend being wrong.
I am very very scared of being wrong.
In looking at this, I can also see a few other, related issues. First, I can see that without having actually addressed this fear specifically, I have through the years given a lot of attention to the apparent causes of it in a general way. Either or both of my parents have been candidates. The Catholic church has been a candidate. Certain teachers who exerted a lot of influence on my intellectual and artistic development have been candidates. I read too much Thoreau at a sensitive age.
Basically, I have always wanted to find the person (or institution) who is to blame, as if laying blame at someone’s feet will somehow absolve me of the problem (and of my own responsibility to solve it).
That is the very essence of projection and denial and it does not work (e.g., T-6.II.3:7-8, T-2.II.2:5).
Jesus would rather help us solve the problem at its source than commiserate with us about its symptoms. To those of us who can’t get past projected symptoms this can be highly frustrating. But it is actually a deeply loving position to take.
The other thing that I have done is try to idolize right and wrong as a spiritual law and actually make the right decision. In other words, I keep telling myself there is a right thing I can do, and when I do it, God will at last bless me, and the fear that attends being wrong will be gone forever.
This has a certain Holy Grail appeal to it. There is something secret and hidden and hard to find but if I can just find it, then all will be well.
The problem with that attempted solution is that it requires a God whose love and beneficence is conditional. And only the ego bargains – not God (e.g., T-7.I.4:1-2, T-8.I.1:5).
So this is what happens: we make contact with fear and with the ways in which we have been neatly avoiding dealing with it. And then what? The problem is still there, the old ways of ignoring it don’t work, and we want to be attentive students of A Course in Miracles. What do we do?
There are a handful of sentences that always antagonized me in Chapter Two’s Fear and Conflict.
The correction of fear is your responsibility. When you ask for release from fear, you are implying that it is not. You should ask, instead, for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about. These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate. At that level you can help it (T-2.VI.4:1-5).
I was frustrated by this for a long time because it seemed unnecessarily cold to me. When I am freaked out by fear – frozen through – why won’t Jesus just take it away? It seems to be the compassionate thing to do. If you’re beyond duality, resting in perfect communion with God . . . help a brother out.
But A Course in Miracles is not content with comforting us in our victimhood. It is not about feeling better while perpetuating the same cycles of confusion about cause and effect. It aims at a greater healing.
Jesus is saying that he would rather help us solve the problem at its source, than commiserate with us about its symptoms. To those of us who can’t get past the symptoms – the external manifestation of fear – this is highly frustrating. But it is actually a deeply loving position to take.
A problem cannot be solved if you do not know what it is. Even if it is really solved already you will still have the problem, because you will not recognize that it has been solved . . . If you would recognize that your only problem is separation, no matter what form it takes, you could accept the answer because you would see it relevance (W-pI.79.1:1-2, 6:2).
So let’s say that I’m scared to do a certain kind of professional writing. It would take a lot of time, energy and attention and I wouldn’t be able to work on other projects. Our family needs the money and so the stakes feel pretty high. If I’m right, it’s cool, but if I’m wrong . . .
In the traditional mode of problem-solving, I say to Jesus: here’s the fear. I’m scared to commit to this particular form of work and writing. I’m scared to commit because it might not work and I really can’t afford to not be paid right now.
It’s important to see how the problem has been set up here. I’m not really talking about fear so much as the symptoms of fear – money and work problems. I’m invested in a particular form. The “help” that I am really after is an assurance that the writing will pay off – preferably in a winning-the-lottery way. Anything less amounts to an unanswered prayer, a scheming and unloving God.
A Course in Miracles is not saying that approach to problems is a sin. But it is suggesting that there is another way – one that is more effective and more likely to yield the inner peace and joy we’re after.
It is important for me to see – and to accept – that my focus on the external symptoms of fear are nothing more than a reflection of my willingness to be separate from God. In the passage I quoted, Jesus is saying that I am “much too tolerant of mind-wandering, and are passively condoning your mind’s miscreations” (T-2.VI.4:6). And he is asking if I am willing to consider that I am not separate.
Our mind’s “miscreations” are essentially its projections, which are its thoughts that the body is real – that it can be sick, poor, abandoned, and so forth. These thoughts are not real but so long as we focus on (tolerate) them, then we are distracted from the real problem which is always our decision to think apart from God, our “willingness to be separate.” So long as I see the problem in terms of money and writing projects and unpaid bills and so forth, I am miscreating.
All A Course in Miracles really does is help us retrain our minds to create, which is to think with God, which is to express or extend love. This isn’t something the ego does because there is nothing formal about it. This is about creation, and the ego is not a participant in creation.
How then do we apply this to what appears to be a specific form of fear – in my case, the fear of making “wrong” decisions?
First, we have to make a conscious decision to keep our focus on the real source of our fear, which is always our my decision to be separate from God. This is hard to do! It is much easier to focus on what is external – the apparent truth that “right” and “wrong” are real and I have to choose between them and then pay whatever price is there to be paid, no matter how much grief it brings to me and my family.
This is part of the discipline of being a course student: staying with challenging psychological material at the inner level rather than projecting it. It takes attention and willingness and it’s not fun. There aren’t rainbows. It can feel stormy and dark for a long time.
The world doesn’t go away but it is transformed a little by our willingness to look with Jesus at the real source of our fear which is nothing other than our willingness to be separated from God.
Second, and related to that first point, we have to try – no matter how fumbling and stumbling it feels – to think with God. It is not a question of concentration but of believing in the fundamental equality and worthiness of all creation (T-4.IV.7:2).
Think honestly what you have thought that God would not have thought, and what you have not thought that God would have you think. Search sincerely for what you have done and left undone accordingly, and then what change your mind to think with God’s. This may seem hard to do, but it is much easier than trying to think against it (T-4.IV.2:4-6).
We want to remember – to trust, really – that to think with God is deeply natural, while thinking against God is unnatural to the point of painful and terrifying.
Does thinking with God this way mean that our so-called problems will go away? After all, the Song of Prayer says, “There are decisions to make here, and they must be made whether they be illusions or not” (S-1.I.2:4).
Thinking with God – even the baby steps that we can manage at this stage of our development – brings us peace. Why? Because we are joining with truth. We are accepting – however dimly, however tenuously – the love inherent in us and in all creation. We are solving the problem at its source, rather than wasting time on the myriad of symptoms that arise and subside and arise again in the world.
It is true that when we are in this space of thinking with God – which is a space of peace – that we are less bothered by what is external. It is less real to us and more in the nature of an image we are looking at. The world doesn’t go away but it is transformed a little by our willingness to look with Jesus at the real source of our fear – our willingness to be separated from God.
And that is all Jesus is asking of us – that is all A Course in Miracles really aims at: a shift in thinking, a gentle adjustment in thought. It is hard at the outset – and might remain hard for a while – but if we can hold the course (pun fully intended), then peace is sure to attend.